Family adds modern touches, but keeps character of historic Ott home
'I always told Mom I would live in this house'
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Heiress to the “lumber doctor,” Stacia Mills admired her aunt’s home, while she was growing up across the street. The grand foyer centered on a wide, wooden staircase leading to a six-panel magnolia stained glass window was memorable, even from a young age. And she would sit in the window with her mother and admire it.
“I always told Mom I would live in this house, and we would be neighbors,” Mills said.
The home at 1119 Moreau Drive was built in 1925 by Louis Ott, owner of the Ott Lumber Company, who also is Mills’ great-grandfather.
Ott built homes for his son Elmer, his daughter Irene and then for himself in a new east side subdivision, then known as “Fairmont” because it had been the site of the Cole County Fair.
The cross street was then named for his two children — Elmerine.
Her father grew up in the home with the turret, built for Irene, and Mills grew up in the blonde brick home, which was Ott’s home. Now she’s raising her children in the third.
“Keeping the home in the family is very special to us,” Mills said. “We have kept the integrity of the property.”
When Elmer Ott died, his son Elmer “Sonny” Ott Jr. lived in the home before selling to Mills and her husband.
She and her husband, Lewis Mills Jr., moved into the home 16 years ago.
“We just had a baby and wanted a larger home in this area,” Mills said.
Her father, Jack Steppelman, still lived across Elmerine Drive at the time. She only wished she could have been next-door neighbors with her late mother, as well, she said.
“We kept the traditional style but brightened it up and made it more today,” Mills said. “It didn’t feel like it was someone else’s home we were moving into.
“It needed updating, and we decided to do it in our style.”
As they made modern touches, the Mills family did not lose focus on the home’s character.
“We like the uniqueness of older homes,” Mills said.
Both grew up in homes like their century-old, grand structure. And Mills collects antiques.
Even the door handles and light fixtures either are original to the home or came from another family home, Mills said.
From family auctions, Mills has picked up other pieces like the foyer table and exceptionally tall mirror.
And they’ve reused some original home pieces in innovative ways.
The back wall of the kitchen came down to add a family room. But the brick was salvaged to add a goldfish pond to the Elmerine side of the house.
When the laundry facilities were moved upstairs during the kitchen remodel, Lewis converted the laundry chute into a recyclable receptacle.
And the hardwood flooring from an upstairs bedroom converted into a bathroom was used to fill in gaps seamlessly in the kitchen, the floor of which had been covered with linoleum and had several holes cut into it.
Elmer Ott’s wife, Pauline, made her own mark on 1119 Moreau Drive with her love of magnolias.
Originally, 1119 Moreau Drive had a large porch on the front of the brick home.
While traveling south, Pauline fell in love with colonial-style homes. So, about 1941, the front porch was replaced with four wood pillars, tile floor and divided picture windows.
And a large magnolia tree planted in the front yard still stands as a reminder.
Mills will bring in a bloom to fill her home with the fresh scent of magnolia, when she has guests over.
More than just being a family home, Mills said likes the open, entertainment-friendly floor plan.
The spacious design of the foyer into the living room and dining room accommodates easier entertaining. The Mills host Friday night dinners and ladies’ Bunko parties, among other events.
She also loves to decorate for Christmas, mostly with greenery, ornaments and caroler figures — unlike her father, who starts assembling his model train display in the summer.
The Mills share their home with their children — Robinson, 17, and Rachel, 15 — and with their two rescue dogs — Blizzard, a great Pyrenees, and Dixie, a Newfoundland.
“We had to have big dogs; we have a big house,” Mills joked.